THE barman looks rather disapproving.
“The Spanish aren’t really renowned for their wine,” he says to the customer next to me, who looks just as puzzled at this remark as would anyone who hadn’t been living on the Moon since 1973.
She asks what red wine choices are available and plumps for Rioja, though not before being exposed to this display of professional ignorance. I’m no connoisseur myself, but I’m confident enough to assert that here are plenty of great wines from Spain. I’m quite partial to a Grenache, as it goes.
No matter, if you want the advice of a sommelier you don’t come to a Toby Carvery. Their chief attraction is reliable quality, pile ’em high roast dinners at bargain basement prices. And since the famous old Queen’s Arms adopted this branding a few years ago, it seems to have been doing a roaring trade.
The Queen’s has been re-branded more times than most pubs over the years. In the early days of my drinking life this was one of Tetley’s flagship Cavalier steakhouses, and it’s been a family-friendly Wacky Warehouse, a Real Macaw and an Ember Inn – and probably one or two others I’ve forgotten since then.
A constant feature throughout these years of change has been the Queen’s Bowling Club, which has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the pub since 1934. Back in the Cavalier days, I can remember a wood-panelled bar at the rear, with honours boards listing in proud gilt text past club chairmen and champions; bowlers would meet here and celebrate their successes over pints of hand-pulled Tetley’s.
The lovely old bowling green remains, and though the club still meets here, it fits rather less neatly with the restaurant branding than it did when the Queen’s was a genuine community local, before these successive refits churned all the character out of the place. Even so, there remains a glass-fronted cabinet of the club’s memorabilia – trophies, photographs and programmes from their annual dinners. It’s a touch of antiquity where so much is new.
The Queen’s re-opened recently after being given yet another refit, though it has retained the Toby branding, and to this observer – who hadn’t been in for a couple of years – it looks pretty much the same, though the creepy-looking giant Toby jugs beside the front door might be new.
The three real ale handpulls – just two connected on this visit – amid a whole host of lager fonts, tell their own story about where the focus of the business lies. Kilner jars beside each pump cater for those who might otherwise be baffled about what colour their Leeds Pale is going to be.
To the left of the bar is an expanse of seating areas with comfortable pink upholstery and subtle lighting, its tables neatly divided by strategically-placed games machines, columns and a fireplace, to create some illusion of intimacy.
But the real action takes place on the right hand side of the bar where the restaurant draws a relentless footfall of north Leeds carnivores. The service starts with a full English breakfast, but this soon gives way to roast meats, and as many potatoes, vegetables and Yorkshire puddings as you can carry.
Its website claims this as West Yorkshire’s favourite carvery restaurant; mind you, it says the same about the Eleventh Earl in Horsforth.
Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton
Type: Toby Carvery Restaurant
Opening Hours: 8am-11pm daily
Beers: Three real ales, currently Leeds Pale (£3.10), Doom Bar (£2.85) and one guest ale. Plus John Smith Smooth, Stella Artois, Strongbow, Amstel, and Guinness.
Wine: Good choice available from £2.75-glass and £9.95-bottle
Disabled: Ramp access and disabled toilets
Food: Carvery opens for full breakfast from 8am. Roast dinners served all day.
Entertainment: Sky TV, games machines,
Children: Kids’ meals and baby-changing facilities.
Beer garden: Large areas to the front and rear
Parking: Large car park to the front and side
Telephone: 0113 288 8165